When last we checked in with Italian coach Marcello Lippi, the five-time Serie A-winner was leading Italy to disappointment at South Africa 2010. After success at World Cup 2006 (guiding the Azzurri to their fourth world title), Lippi was lured back to the national team after Italy’s failure at Euro 2008. The result made 2008 seem like a rousing success. Whereas Roberto Donadondi at least managed to guide Italy out of their group in Austria-Switzerland, Lippi failed to win a game in South Africa, the Azzurri finishing last in their group.
After two years out of the game, Lippi made his return, and like any soccer icon looking for one final payday, he did so in China. Credit to him, he chose a club that provided a soft landing, signing on with defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande, a team that was spending as much on its players as they were on its coaches. Guangzhou had made former Fluminense star Dario Conca one of the world’s highest paid players, also signing former Partizan Belgrade attacker Cleo and Paraguayan international Lucas Barrios.
On Saturday, all that investment paid off, the team’s 1-0 win over Liaoning Whowin securing a second straight Chinese Super League title. It’s the first time in the nine-year history of the CSL a team’s retained the title. China international Gao Lin scored in second half stoppage time to push the Tigers to 59 points through 29 games, five clear of Jiangsu Sainty with one match to play.
“This is very special because it is the first time I have won the league overseas and it is good to do it in China which is a great country,” Lippi said after the match.
The title is the eighth major honor in Lippi’s career, a span which includes a European title with Juventus in 1996. The trophy also represents a small piece of redemption for the 64-year-old who saw his team eliminated from Asian Champions League at the beginning of the month by Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad.
With Guangzhou in the final of China’s FA Cup, Lippi could soon add another honor to his already vast resume, though a more newsworthy prize may arrive this offseason. Rumors in China have linked Didier Drogba with a move to the champions, the Ivorian’s club (Shanghai Shenhua) reportedly in a salary dispute with its star. Lippi and Guangzhou have denied interest as rumors of Drogba’s potential split of Shanghai have started to calm.